Latics twice came from behind at a foggy Alexandra Stadium to progress in dramatic fashion in their first Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie for 13 years.
The win was sealed with a double from Jordy Hiwula and a quite exceptional long range winner from Yanic Wildschut. And all that after missing a first minute penalty in what turned out to be a real thriller.
To add to the positives, there was a first outing of the season for both Grant Holt and Don Cowie.
Gary Caldwell made five changes for the game, according to the maximum allowed under competition rules. Michael Jacobs, David Perkins and Reece James did not feature, alongside Will Grigg who has joined up with Northern Ireland, and the suspended Craig Morgan. Into the side came Jack Hendry for his debut, Andy Kellett and Yanic Wildschut for their first starts, along with Francisco Junior and Sanmi Odelusi.
The game exploded into life with Latics earning a penalty with barely a minute played, Odelusi brought down by Jon Guthrie after Junior’s great through ball. Odelusi took it himself but; Ben Garratt dived to his right to parry it away.
Five minutes later and Latics found themselves a goal down. Bradden Inman dispossessed Hendry as he tried to see a ball out for a goal-kick, he squared it to Marcus Haber, who fired home into the empty net.
Real frustration but Latics came back with all guns blazing. First, Kellet’s dangerously in-swinging corner came back off the crossbar before a second corner, this time from Max Power from the other side, eventually found its way into the back of the Crewe net. Hendry rose to nod the initial kick back across goal, Wildschut then connected with it and Jordy Hiwula squeezed it under Garratt with an attempted overhead kick. 1-1, with still just ten minutes gone.
Latics continued to threaten the Crewe goal. Power’s rocket from the edge of the box was deflected just over and after the resultant corner, Hiwula’s effort took another deflection to hit the side netting. Then Junior tried his luck from just inside the box and a third goalbound Latics effort was deflected, before Donervon Daniels’ speculative shot from the right wing was deflected onto the crossbar by the outstretched fingers of Garratt.
Chris McCann was replaced by Don Cowie on 28 minutes – the Scot’s first involvement of the season following surgery on a troublesome calf and appendicitis.
Latics then found themselves behind once again when Ryan Colclough forced his way through a crowded box to fire in on 36 minutes, a disappointing finish to a half which they had dominated.
Latics started the second half well, Hiwula forcing Garratt into a save on 49 minutes after shooting low from the left, then Wildschut fired into the side netting immediately afterwards.
There was a huge cheer from the Latics fans on 53 minutes for the introduction of Grant Holt for his first game for the club in 14 months following knee surgery but there was an immediate delay for over seven minutes after Crewe defender George Ray collided with Francisco Junior and appeared to lie unconscious on the pitch. He received lengthy treatment and was eventually carried off by the medical team.
Latics were first to react after the enforced break and were level on 70 minutes after a great spell. Firstly, Hiwula drove through the middle and appeared to be tripped but nothing was given. The loose ball fell to Daniels who smashed it past Garratt that came cannoning off the upright. Cowie was first to react and slipped a delightful reverse ball down the left channel to Wildschut, whose driven cross into the area was turned in by Hiwula from five yards.
Six minutes later and the game was turned on its head after Wildschut picked the ball up just inside his own half and drove at the Crewe defence, eventually unleashing a quite brilliant drive from 25 yards which nearly broke the back of the net such was its power - even some Crewe fans were on their feet to applaud its quality. The Dutchman was replaced on by Tim Chow on 84 minutes and received a standing ovation from the Latics fans.
For all the brilliance of the goal, the game was far from won and Haber could have equalised when he found himself free in the area in the 87th minute, but he put his effort just over the bar.
With the injury to Ray, 10 minutes’ additional time was signalled and Latics had to concentrate as the game swung from end to end in a frenetic finale.
Latics could have extended their lead when Power’s goal-bound drive was deflected just wide with Garratt beaten. Then Crewe then had a double chance with three minutes of the ten remaining, Jaaskelainen brilliantly blocking Haber’s shot from close range before substitute Dalla Valle headed over with the goal gaping. There was still time for Hiwula to beat two men and fire in a drive well saved by Garratt.
A big relief at the final whistle and the Latics players made a point of congratulating the 576 fans who made the trip down the M6.